Reeder: RSS Readers for iPad, iPhone, and Mac

Where do you go to find the latest information of your interests? Twitter may be the best place to find the constantly updated site of news and rumours, and Facebook Pages and groups start playing a similar role to seed out information to us. While these two sources are useful if we use them strategically, they can overwhelm us very easily because of their constant flow of massive amount of information.

I use Facebook Pages and Twitter to find some latest information, but these two sources may not be necessarily suitable to check if my favourites blogs like academiPad have published new posts or to see if news websites updated their content. Many of us likely have a handful of blogs and websites that we regularly follow, and if we check their update status one by one, it would take a lot of effort and time. To make this routine of checking blog and website update status more efficient, I use RSS feeds through Reeder.

 

What Is RSS?

RSS Icon

RSS, often dubbed as “Really Simple Syndication,” is a web feed format, and even if you’ve never used it, you most likely see RSS icons on news websites, blogs, and podcast pages. Its basic function is to send out updates as rss, xml, or atom formats. (For your information, Atom is an alternative to RSS and it is different from RSS, but their basic functions are the same.) If you’re subscribing to podcasts, for example, you may actually receiving the latest episodes of your favourite shows via RSS.

An advantage of using RSS feeds is to receive often summarized updates from your favourite news websites, blogs, journal websites, and so on. If you want to read more, you just need to click links or titles to go to the actual pages to read the entire posts or news articles. Unlike Twitter, you’ll receive more information because RSS feeds don’t have a 140 character limit, but like Facebook, the feeds contain images, videos, and even audio so the information you receive through them are more dynamic.

We have a wide range of RSS reader apps available, from Vienna RSS, to online Google Reader, to previously shareware but now freeware NetNewsWire (also for iPad, $10, iTunes link), to social media “magazine” Flipboard (free, iTunes link). Among many great apps,  I want to talk about my favourite app, Reeder (for Mac, for iPad, for iPhone). [Read more…]

Adonit Jot: The Best Stylus for Academics

Adonit Jot: A stylus optimized for precisionThe stylus is making a huge come back nowadays. New forms and shapes have proliferated over the last few years, begging the question: what is the best stylus for academics? I personally think that Adonit’s Jot is the best stylus out there for people in Higher Education. In this post I share my personal experience with the Jot, discuss its pros and cons, and compare the different members of the Jot family (Pro vs. Flip vs. Touch) with each other.

 

Made for students and professors

First, lets quickly think about what you would you use a stylus for. Most academics want to use a stylus to develop ideas. Thus, the capacity to capture handwriting (e.g., when taking notes) and to draw lines (e.g., when making conceptual maps) are the most important aspects to look for in a stylus made for students, professors, and everybody else whose main business is conceptual work. In other words, what we need is a stylus optimized for precision. [Read more…]

Notes on notes on… Notability

before we hand notabilityI am a notetaking fiend. Ever since junior high, I’ve had either a stack of pens in various colors or (my fave) the Bic retractable 4-color pen. I would use red ink for  vocabulary words & names of important concepts, blue ink for explanations, green ink for things that struck a chord with me, and black for general info. I also drew pictures & diagrams to help drive concepts home. Yes, my notes were epic. I admit, I do still use those 4-color pens when I’m forced to deal with hardcopy items. Sure, I’ve grown up a little, but I still want the flexibility of using pretty colors & putting awesome pictures in my notes.

 

Enter Notability.

I first stumbled upon Notability through this Cult of Mac post, which was sent to me by @JohnWilson. At that point, I’d been using GoodReader to read & annotate PDFs. I liked GoodReader well enough (and still have it), but I felt a bit restricted in what I could do. I think Notability (iTunes link) was on sale for $0.99 at the time, so I jumped right on it. [Read more…]

8 Mac apps for $40?! Is the Productive Macs bundle worth it? [expired]

Productive Macs bundleEvery once in a while, a group of Mac applications are pulled together in a bundle and offered for a ridiculously low price. Productive Macs is one of those, and it offers you 8 Mac apps for the price of $40. Is it worth it? This review will tell you.

In short: Unless you already have a good information management workflow in place, the Productive Mac bundle is a good investment. DEVONthink and HoudahSpot are two alternative systems to organize all kinds of files – either in a database or through tagging. MacJournal is a great tool for organizing your writing projects, and MailTags seems to be a good way to expand your info management workflow into your email inbox.

The rest of this review gives you some more background on how the eight apps bundled in the Productive Macs offer fit into academic workflows. [Read more…]

Start loving to organize your PDFs with Papers for Mac

Papers 2 for MacThe best apps offer a simplistic and beautiful interface that allows people to use the software in an intuitive way. Papers by mekentosj is one of these apps: Through its iTunes-like interface, Papers allows you to organize and annotate your endless collections of journal articles in an easy and fun way.

This post is part of a series exploring the two leading PDF management systems on the Mac and iPad: Sente and Papers. Previous posts have explored the benefits of PDF management systems (in comparison to stand-alone PDF readers) and offered an in-depth review of Sente for Mac. The current post checks out Papers, following the same structure as the Sente for Mac posts: it introduces the Papers ecosystem, reviews how you can add and annotate references, and briefly talks about how you can insert in-text citations and bibliographies into your write-ups. [Read more…]

Overcoming writer’s block with OmmWriter

OmmWriter for iPadThere are many reasons why you might be stuck with your writing, and there is even more advice out there how to break the block. One of the best advice I have seen is to write your way out: write even when you are not quite sure yet how to write it, heck, even write when you have nothing to write about! How can technology help you doing that?

I am a great fan of distraction free writing apps and I am using a couple of them (see my post on iA Writer). Distraction free writing apps are great even when you don’t have writing troubles, because their minimalistic interface will keep you in the flow. But when I am stuck, my greatest weapon (next to Kombucha drinks and good coffee) is OmmWriter! [Read more…]

Super-charge your PDF workflow with Sente for Mac

Finding, reading, annotating, and citing journal articles is our daily bread as academics. But are we good at cutting it? How many times have you searched for “that perfect paper” you have read just a few weeks ago!? Or have you ever almost missed a submission deadline because compiling the bibliography “took a little longer”?

If you are reading a lot of journal articles (and chances are you do if you are in university), it makes sense to invest in a tightly integrated ecosystem that allows you to organize and annotate your PDFs seamlessly on the Mac and the iPad. As I mentioned in the previous guide to annotating PDFs, there are right now two contenders in a neck-to-neck race of offering the best, multi-device PDF management system: Sente and Papers. To keep the current review of Sente for Mac somehow manageable (Sente’s user manual stretches over 316 pages, just to give you an idea), it only covers the most basic functions: how to add a PDF (or reference more generally), how to organize your references, what annotations are supported, and how you can insert in-text citations and bibliographies into your write-ups. [Read more…]

How to type faster on your iPad or Mac

Today, academiPad welcomes its first guest author post! I know Bryan Sippel from my first year at Queen’s, and he was a productivity ninja already back then. Nowadays he sharpens his skills as a consultant, working with higher education institutions implementing, upgrading, and supporting the Oracle Campus Solutions software product. Thanks Bryan for bringing our typing up to speed!

Do you like to save time?  If you spend a lot of time typing on a Mac or iOS device, TextExpander is an application guaranteed to save you time.  TextExpander allows you to configure “snippets” of text that will expand to additional text when you type them in any application. Think of a long word, phrase, or paragraph that you often find yourself typing.  If you can think of a short snippet for it, TextExpander is something to consider.  For example, I have configured a snippet  “ddate” which expands to the date written in full (e.g. Thursday, February 2, 2012).  Another snippet is  “ttime” which expands to a time stamp (e.g. 1:30 PM).

[Read more…]

How you can “just write it down” with iA Writer

 

iA Writer“This is a great idea. It brings a whole new perspective to our literature. And I know exactly how to write it down. Here it goes,…” And then nothing happens, except you staring at a blank page in your text editor or playing around with the formatting options. That’s why the world needs distraction-free writing tools such as iA Writer ($5, App Store).

Most people I know use Apple Pages or Microsoft Word for all their writing needs: from the first written word to the last proof-read. I did that. But it didn’t work for me. I diagnosed myself with “white-page anxiety” (who knows a Latin term for this?), because I get no writing done in any application that suggests to me that the first try has to result in a perfectly publishable end-product. And full-blown word processors do exactly that – at least for me. That’s why I prefer to write most of my stuff (including this post) in an environment that is as simplistic as it goes. Call it the “everything-is-temporary-effect”.

 

Simplicity is King

iA Writer comes both for the Mac and the iPad and positions itself as the godsend in distraction free writing.  [Read more…]

Mind mapping with MindNode

Today, I would like to introduce you to MindNode ($10) for the iPad. MindNode was one of the first apps that I bought for my iPad back in 2010 when it hit the app store, and it is one of the third party apps that I use the most often (ignoring games, obviously). As you have already guessed from the title of this post, MindNode is an app for mind mapping.

Mind mapping probably needs no introduction, but in short, the idea is to organize your ideas in a tree structure that starts from a central node in the center and then moves outwards. Benefits of mind maps are that they speak to the spatial parts of your brain: I can quickly find around my way even in very large mind maps, like the one holding all the topics I would like to cover in this blog, because my brain knows in what corner to look for the information it is looking for.

I am using mind maps for many different things. While I sometimes use it to structure my thoughts to prepare some writing, my main use for mind maps is to store ideas and little bits of info. I find that the structure of mind maps makes it easy for me to get back to the information collected in the map even after some time of absence.

 

MindNode gets out of your way

There are several mind mapping apps out there, and some a better known such as iThoughts HD ($10) or free such as Mindjet for iPad. So what is so good about MindNode? For starters, I really enjoy the simplicity of the app. I am a bit of a minimalist junky, and this is especially true for mind mapping apps. MindNode’s interface pretty much gets out of the way and allows you to jot down your ideas fast and easy. [Read more…]